Project managers spend 90 percent of their time on communication related activities; yet communication is reported to be the No. 1 problem on projects.
Consider the following example: While planning one of my projects, my core project team assessed our sponsor, “William”, to have high influence but low interest in our project. William would routinely arrive late to meetings, be distracted by his phone, and leave early saying he had more important meetings to attend. When he was present, his gloomy attitude affected the rest of the team. They did not want to speak up in front of him fearing that they may have to face his disdain.I realized that, while there was no way I could change his communication behavior, I should learn his communication style in order to keep other stakeholders engaged. I couldn’t afford to have communication barriers get in the way of our project’s success.
Past project managers felt they had to invite William to every meeting because he was in charge. I didn’t want to accept that assumption without proof, so I scheduled a 15 minute meeting with William to clarify his expectations of his role on the project. He hated that meeting, but it proved to be a valuable use of time. I learned he wanted his primary communications to be brief emails describing the project’s status. He did not want to participate in most meetings, but he did want to be invited as an optional attendee. William wanted to know, most of all, whether we were on time and on budget.
After hearing his preferences, I made a note in my communication plan to provide agendas to the team and William ahead of time so everyone would know exactly what would be covered in those meetings, allowing William to know which meetings he should attend. Now, of course, this isn’t a fairy tale. A little bit of added effort at the beginning of the project to plan communications didn’t result in a highly engaged sponsor. The reality was William was still William— a tad grouchy and disconnected from the project— but following our meeting about his needs, he wasn’t adversely affecting the rest of the project team.
The team’s attitude remained positive and collaborative. Problem solving was more effective because people spoke freely about issues that arose. Avoiding William was not an option for me, but maintaining the status quo of past communication patterns wasn’t a good option either.
I recently co-wrote an eLearning course titled: “Project Communication and Stakeholder Engagement,” and I used this experience as I developed the content. Poor communication examples during projects are endless, yet many people allocate time developing technical project management skills while ignoring softer skills like communication and active listening. This is a mistake, especially when you realize that making even a small change in your project communication habits has the potential for a great impact on your project’s success. Ask yourself: “Is there a benefit to not communicating effectively?”
Here are 5 additional reasons to care about project communication:
Numbers Don’t Lie.
As we said, project managers spend up to 90% of their time on communication-related activities, and communication is reported to be the No. 1 problem on projects. Clearly there is an opportunity to increase competency in this area, which would decrease communication problems on projects.
In December 2015, Project Management Institute (PMI) ® recognized that to be an excellent project manager technical knowledge isn’t enough. PMI introduced The Talent Triangle™ with branches dedicated to Strategic and Business Management and Leadership Skills in addition to the foundational Technical certification-specific knowledge requirements. PMI recognizes that to be relevant in a competitive industry, project managers must increase their leadership competencies, including communication skills.
As a project manager, you need to use communication skills in every aspect of your job, from refereeing conflicts between team members to emailing project status updates to stakeholders. To do this, you need to enhance your communication skills. If you don’t, your stakeholders could experience poor team relationships, receive too little relevant information about the project, and could become disengaged from it. The easiest way to maintain engagement with your stakeholders is to take the time to plan how you will communicate with them early in the project, and follow through with it.
One of the biggest benefits to investing in your project communication skills is the ease in which you will be able to collect information on possible risks to your project. All of the methods we suggest to identify risks involve high-quality communication. Being able to facilitate a brainstorming meeting is an art and a science. Knowing exactly how long to use silence before someone is so uncomfortable they volunteer a suggestion is a golden moment in effective listening. Maintaining energy and enthusiasm with your project team while identifying risk categories and completing an affinity diagram is a skill that isn’t going to come naturally to everyone, but when practiced it becomes second nature. Given the alternative of missing a potential risk that could be costly, it seems obvious that for this reason alone you should care about increasing your communications competence.
Simple changes can make a big difference in improving project communications. Imagine a project where you’ve drafted a comprehensive communications management plan and followed it. Where you’ve continuously updated your stakeholder register, and because of it, stayed on top of requirement changes. Where barriers to communication were reduced to the point where no time was lost because everyone was aware of the project’s progress. This would get noticed. A project brought in on time, within budget, and meeting the needs of the organization will definitely catch the executive team’s eye.
It doesn’t have to be difficult. Ultimately the investment in effective communications will result in benefits to the entire organization. Conflicts will be reduced; employee satisfaction will increase resulting in reduced turnover and fewer requirements will be missed.
Enhancing your communication skills for the sake of your project’s success doesn’t mean those skills have to stay in the office. Your ability to effectively listen, to ask clarifying questions, and to craft professional formal and informal correspondence all have practical applications in the real world. This alone should motivate you to increase your communication skills.
To increase your communication skills please take RMC’s updated Project Communication and Stakeholder Engagement eLearning course.